Saturday, 29 September 2018
I am a fan of David Servant's blog which means that I regularly receive and read the articles that he posts. To this day I think that he has written one of the most well rounded introductions to conditional immortality there is and I have often referred people to it and have read it more than once myself. Recently however, he posted an article challenging the Anabaptist stance on military service, war and pacifism which has prompted this post or rather, series of posts. I figured that this may get long and so I would like to address his post with a series of four of my own, each highlighting a specific topic relating to the overall theme. This blog will attempt to set the stage for the rest of the discussion, the second post will deal with what the New Testament says about violence, military service and pacifism, the third with Jesus' commands to "love your neighbor" and your enemy and why I think that David is wrong in his interpretation. The last post will be on two different approaches to the Bible which I believe is essentially why David and the Anabaptists, a person and a people both devoted to Christ and serious about scripture, can land on such polar opposite positions on such an important topic.
Starting with a story
I would like to start by retelling a story from World War 2 that happened at the Battle of the Bulge which I first read about in Keith Giles' book, Jesus Untangled. In the war there was a special army unit whose job it was to each day go out and kill German soldiers who were wounded but still alive on the fields from the previous days fighting. One morning a soldier came across a German sitting against a tree, the man was not wounded but simply to exhausted to have retreated back to safety. When he was spotted a man raised his rifle to kill him but the German requested in English if he could please first have a moment to pray. His would be executioner lowered his rifle and asked him if he was a Christian to which the man replied yes. The man then said that he too was a Christian and then sat down next to the other man under the tree, pulled out a Bible and the two started to read and pray together. After they finished praying and the German said amen, the American (I am assuming, I suppose that he could have been British or something else as well) stood up and said, "well, I guess that we will meet again in heaven", and shot his German brother in the head.
This is an extreme, even absurd, example but it is perfect to illustrate the dangers involved when a church believes in just war. If you are not familiar with Just War Theory, it is a philosophical attempt to reconcile three things:
- Taking human life is seriously wrong.
- The state has a duty to defend its citizens.
- Protecting innocent human life and defending important moral values sometimes requires willingness to use force and violence.
Just War Theory then proceeds to lay out certain guidelines as to when it is okay to kill another person or to harm them in some other way. The Anabaptist position which rejects participation in violence and war for Christians would be that of Pro-Life as opposed to the more common Christian position which is better defined as Pro-Birth or Pro-those -we -deem-deserving -of-life (which makes allowance for things like the death penalty). Yet I need to stress that Anabaptists still acknowledge the validity of point number two, that the state has a right to defend itself, they simply believe that they, personally, are to obey Christ, their master and commander, over that of the state (which is why they do not choose to partake in the military) when the two are at odds.
"No (Christian) soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier" -2 Timothy 2:4
The Anabaptist mindset, and those who agree with them, is that the kingdoms of the world coexist alongside the kingdom of God for now. We are not to get caught up in the affairs and agendas of worldly kingdoms, even though God has established them that their can be order in a fallen world. Instead Christ followers are to devote themselves to the Kingdom of Heaven and to establish Gods will here on earth and follow the decrees of King Jesus. These are mostly laid out in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus famously says things like "turn the other cheek" and "blessed are the peacemakers".
To the Anabaptist mind, our weapons are not made of iron or steel and used to cut down people. But rather they are metaphorical, the armor of God is to clothe yourself with Christ Himself. The breastplate of righteousness, having feet shod with the gospel of peace, your shield is faith, your helmet is salvation and your sword is truth, held not in you hand but swinging out of your mouth. These are terrible weapons for soldiers on a physical battleground but nevertheless they are essential weapons in the army of God. The book of Revelation essentially tells us how Christ conquered not by slaying His enemies but by laying down His own life for them as a lamb. The book continues by encouraging Christians to follow the Lamb wherever He goes, even to the point of death (14:4).
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. - Ephesians 6:12
To reiterate, this is not to say that Anabaptists and like-minded Christians do not believe that the state has a right to defend itself, they do and Romans 13 essentially makes provision for that. The view simply states that while Governments have certain rights and functions the Christian is not to be entangled in them. We should obey them and live at peace with all men as far as possible. But we, as Christians, are to be led rather by Romans 12, to bless those who persecute us, to feed your hungry enemy and to repay evil with good.
Of course Anabaptists cannot and do not use a 'cut and paste' approach to scripture and believing that Jesus modeled 'non-violent resistance' (not pacifism so much) needs to be reconciled with the violent parts of the Bible as well. So in my next post I will look at the New Testament. I will address the war imagery that is often used there, Jesus' moment of turning over tables in the temple and more. Check back soon for part 2.